Southern Baptists and Fundamentalists

For the first 43 years of my Christian life, I was a member of two Independent Baptist churches. Then for the last 18 years, I have belonged to a Southern Baptist Church. The first two were not radically fundamentalist and the last one is not radically Southern Baptist, so I have wondered why Southern Baptists and fundamentalists do not have more fellowship and how it came to be this way. Come to find out, to my surprise, the main issue was the creation-evolution debate, and the prime mover was a Southern Baptist pastor named J. Frank Norris.

J. Frank Norris should not to be confused with Chuck Norris, although both were fiery men of law and order in Texas. J. Frank was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Fort Worth for 44 years, until his death in 1952. Chuck Norris was experienced in martial arts and was an actor, but J. Frank was the real deal. His influence on people and institutions was phenomenal.

Beginning in the 1870’s, Hell’s Half Acre was the violent and lawless red light district of Fort Worth. It was full of boarding houses, bordellos, gambling parlors, hotels, and saloons but was tolerated because it brought in tax revenue. Bat Masterson, Butch Cassidy, Doc Holliday, Sam Bass, the Sundance Kid, and Wyatt Earp spent time there. It was the preaching of J. Frank Norris against this den of iniquity that brought it to an end around 1919.

How did Norris get to be so hardnosed and outspoken? Maybe it was because his father was a drunkard who beat him severally. An acquaintance of his father shot them both, when he was only 13, and it took him three years to recover. This was the Wild, Wild West, and Norris was determined to tame it by the preaching of the Word of God.

After preaching for a year, Norris attended Baylor and then got a Masters of Theology from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville. He was first outspoken as editor of the Baptist Standard newspaper and got Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary moved from Waco to Ft. Worth, where it is now, and he got racetrack gambling abolished in Texas. He had a big part in getting Hoover elected president, at least as far as Texas was concerned. At his peak, he was pastoring simultaneously in Ft. Worth and in Detroit, with a combined membership of 26,000. People across the nation listened to his strong opinions.

He especially took on the liquor industry, and as a result of that, Roman Catholicism, because of its position on drinking. He fearlessly denounced the most powerful men in business and government. When he preached against the mayor of Ft. Worth, a friend of the mayor confronted him in his office and he shot him. A jury judged it to be self-defense. This really was the Wild, Wild West.

Jumping back to the 20’s, Norris condemned the teaching of German rationalism and evolutionism at Baylor, which placed him at the head of the fundamentalist movement in Texas. Since he didn’t hesitate to name names in high places, he was denied seats at the Southern Baptist General Convention in 1922 and 23. Interestingly, the famous Scopes Trial took place July 10-21, 1925. This was the time when churches determined the position they would take on science and the Bible.

In the 1930’s, while still pastor of First Baptist, Norris organized a group now called the World Baptist Fellowship, with a school in Arlington, TX. This was where my first pastor came from. From this original group came the ABA in Texarkana, the BBF in Springfield, MO, and Heartland Baptist Bible College in Oklahoma City. Two of my daughters have ties to this last school.

Here’s a sidelight. John Birch, a graduate of the Arlington school, while serving as a missionary in China, helped Jimmy Doolittle’s men escape after their raid on Tokyo. Joining the Air Force and rising to the rank of captain, he headed an intelligence network in China. Ten days after WWII ended, John was killed by the Chinese Communist. Since he was the first victim of the Cold War, his name was taken by the anti-Communist organization, the John Birch Society.

Has anything changed, a hundred years after the Baylor showdown? Not according to my friend who pastors a Southern Baptist church in my neighborhood. Not so many years ago, he was on the Board of Trustees for Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. When they wanted to build the Science Building, he could not of good conscience vote in favor of it, and the banks needed a unanimous decision. Why not? He talked to every teacher in the science department and asked them if they would be willing to spend a little time teaching scientific creationism along with their curriculum. According to him, they all said they would not. He could not support spending Southern Baptist money on a science building that excluded the teaching of creation science. Because of that, he was ostracized and blackballed by his peers. He was canceled.

In the 1920’s, when William Jennings Bryan had to defend Genesis, there was almost no scientific support for a young earth position. Today, the facts are overwhelming and need to be known. Discussion needs to take the place of either silence or debate. Because of court decisions, education has become so secular that many are fleeing public schools, and I myself will be teaching in a homeschool coop, starting August. Who is going to bring God back into science if schools and churches won’t do it? It matters little who wins the elections in November if citizens are too ignorant to make wise decisions.

Let’s talk.

One thought on “Southern Baptists and Fundamentalists

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *